God and the Reasoning Mind


God and the Reasoning Mind

January 18th, 1981 @ 8:15 AM

Acts 17:2

And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 17:2

1-18-81    8:15 a.m.



It is a happiness for us to welcome the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on the two radio stations that bear it.  This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivering the message entitled God and the Reasoning Mind.  In the long, long series on the “Great Doctrines of the Bible,” we have just finished the series on the doctrine of the Bible itself, bibliology.  And today we begin the series on the doctrine of God Himself; that is theology proper, and there are seven messages in this series on God.  It starts today with God and the Reasoning Mind, and it will conclude in the seventh message entitled The Unfathomable Mystery of the Trinity.


May we now open our Bibles to the Book of Acts at chapter 17.  God and the Reasoning Mind: often will you find in the story of the tremendous ministry of the apostle Paul that he “reasoned” with the people in the synagogue [Acts 17:1-2, 18:4], in the Areopagus before the Roman procurator, Paul “reasoned” [Acts 17:22].  For example in Acts 17, the first verse speaks of his coming to Thessalonica [Acts 17:1], the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia.  And then the next verse says that, “Paul, as his manner was, reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging” [Acts 17:2-3].  In the middle part of that chapter and the last part, Paul is standing before the Athenians [Acts 17:19-34], the university center of the ancient world.  And we shall speak of his reasoning message to the Athenians.


Now, you look in chapter 18, the next one, Acts chapter 18.  Verse [1] says that Paul left Athens and came to Corinth [Acts 18:1].  Now you look at verse 4, “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” [Acts 18:4].  In that same chapter 18, you look at verse 19:  “He came to Ephesus, and reasoned with the Jews” [Acts 18:19].


Could I point out one other?  In chapter 24, verse 25; Acts 24:25, Felix is a dissolute and vile and profligate citizen of the Roman Empire, and the procurator of the province of Judea.  He is married to a Jewess; she is the sister of Herod Agrippa II, her name is Drusilla [Acts 24:24].  And Felix and Drusilla, seated in their palace, send for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ [Acts 24:24].  What he expected to hear from Paul, I do not know.  I would think some far-out, unbelievable—way, way beyond anybody’s acceptance—story that would maybe elicit from them a smile or a sneer.  But you look at what the Scriptures say in verse 25, “And as Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled” [Acts 24:25].  You could translate that word, “He was terrified.”  And he said when I have a time that suits me, I will call for you, “When I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” [Acts 24:25].  But you look at what Paul did.  Standing in the presence of the court, he “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” [Acts 24:25].  All of this is just a background for us to understand that the Christian faith addresses itself to the mind of a man; God and the reasoning mind.


We cannot help seeking an answer in our own hearts, in our own minds.  We’re made that way.  We ourselves demand; we seek a reasonable answer.  Plato, concerning Greek rationality, wrote, now you look at this sentence, “A man must attempt to give an account of things because he is a man, not merely because he is a Greek.”  Plato is avowing that all of us are made like that.  It isn’t just the Greek that has the inquiring mind and seeks an answer.  Plato observes that all of us are like that and all of us seek an account of things.


Not only is that in us, our own minds and our own hearts seek a reasonable answer for the faith.  But others ask questions of us and we ought to answer.  I don’t think it is an answer for us to sneer at the materialist, or the humanist, or the atheist, or the infidel; he deserves an answer.  And I don’t think it is appropriate for us to disregard the questions and the doubts that arise in the minds of our people.


My own heart is filled many times with questioning doubts.  And I seek an answer.  This is not something that insults God or is unworthy of our Christian faith and behavior.  The Lord commends us in it.  The apostle Peter wrote, in the third chapter of his first epistle, verse 15, he says to us, “Be ready always to give an answer to every one that asketh you a reason for the hope and the faith that is in you; and do it with meekness and in fear” [1 Peter 3:15].


And of course all of us are familiar with the third verse of Jude’s little letter, when he asks us, “Earnestly to contend for the faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints” [Jude 1:3].  That’s an interesting Greek sentence, “Earnestly contend for the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith.”


Well God made us that way, it’s His workmanship.  We have a free mind and God gave us the liberty of choice—choice in thought, choice in acceptance, choice in belief, choice in faith, choice in obedience—God made us free; our minds are free, our souls are free.  God did that in the Garden of Eden; He gave to our first parents, and through them, to us all freedom of choice; we’re made that way [Genesis 1:26-27, 2:16-17].  A man can incarcerate, he can imprison my body but he can’t my mind and my soul.  There is a hymn:


Our fathers chained in prisons dark,


were still in heart and conscience free—


then the rest of the quatrain—


How sweet would be their children’s fate,


if we like them could die for Thee? 


[“Faith of Our Fathers,” Frederick William Faber]




My body may be imprisoned, but not my mind and not my soul.”  God made me free.


And that’s why it is a marvelous thing to use the instrument, the weapon, that God gave us of reasoning, of persuading, of wooing; for if you win a man’s mind and a man’s heart, you win the man himself.  God addresses his truth to the mind, and to the soul, and to the heart.  He is the God of truth; He reveals Himself as the God of fact and reality.  And He speaks of that truth when He speaks to our minds.


It’s a marvelous thing to me that when the sainted apostle John began his gospel, the Fourth Gospel, he began it with a Greek philosophical term: en archē ēn ho logos kai ho logos ēn pros ton theon kai theos ēn ho logos.   That’s one of the finest philosophical sentences ever written, “In the beginning was ho logos, “the reason” [John 1:1], the reasoning mind, the reasoning revelation of God; God and the reasoning mind.  God addresses Himself to the mind, to the soul.  Christianity, the faith, is an intellectually, appropriate-able, faith-religion; it can be understood.  So as we begin this introductory sermon on theology, on God, we do so as He addresses the mind.


Now in these passages that we have just read, in the center of it where Paul is described as “reasoning in Thessalonica” [Acts 17:2], he is reasoning in Corinth [Acts 18:4], he is reasoning in Ephesus [Acts 18:19].  In the middle of it, he appears before the Athenian court called the Areopagus, the supreme court of Attica [Acts 17:19]; and the story of it comprises the greater part of this seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts.  Now he stands there on Mars’ Hill and the Acropolis [Acts 17:22], with its Parthenon and its innumerable temples to the gods and goddesses of the Athenians, is right there.  And below him is the agora, the marketplace, where he began to reason with the people [Acts 17:17].


Now as he speaks to them about the one true God revealed in Christ Jesus [John 1:18], he is speaking, one, to pagan polytheists, these who worship before many, many gods and goddesses.  They would have had no trouble at all with the message of Paul, had it been they just add another god: Jupiter, Juno, Venus, Diana, Artemis, Bacchus, Saturn, they would have had no trouble adding another one—iesous and anastasis.  That’s what they thought he was doing because he was preaching unto them “Jesus and the resurrection” [Acts 17:18],  iesous, Jesus is male— anastasis is female, the resurrection; and they thought he was bringing them two new gods. 


They’d had no trouble at all, the pagan polytheists, they’d had no trouble at all with that, had it just been they were adding two new gods; a male and a female god.  But when Paul spoke of this Lord Jesus as being alone, the one true God [Acts 17:22-39], then they had great difficulty with the thought.  Now that was the pagan polytheists; but there’s another group there, the pagan philosophers, who were something else.  They were in an altogether different category, and Doctor Luke names two of them in verse 18 of the seventeenth chapter of Acts, who were there listening to the apostle Paul reason concerning God.  “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him” [Acts 17:18]. 


Now these men are atheistic materialists, or turn it around, they were materialistically atheists.  They were in a different set.  They were university men, they were learned men, they were philosophers of the first order, and they have an altogether different kind of an approach to this thing of God. They scoffed at the mythological deities of those pagan worshipers.  To them it was unthinkable, as it is to us unimaginable that there should be gods—and that they lived on Mount Olympus, and that they had all of those mythological lives that are recorded in Homer’s Aeneid and Odyssey and all the rest of ancient Greek literature.  They were university men, they were learned men, but they were also atheists: they were gross, crass, materialists.


The first one named there is “the Epicurean” [Acts 17:18].  He died—Democritus formed the philosophical background for the Epicureans—Democritus died in 370 B.C.  And he proposed and propounded the idea of the atomic structure of the universe.  There’s a Greek word timno—that means “to cut.”  And an adjectival form of it is tomos, which means “cut-able,” divisible.  And the alpha privative in front of it makes the word come out atomos, atom, “uncut,” undivisible; the smallest particle to which you can reduce the material world.  And the philosophical explanation of Democritus concerning the universe was this: that the universe is nothing but, everything is nothing but a vast concourse of “uncut-ables,” indivisibles; the Greek word is “atoms.”  And the finer atoms comprise the human soul and the grosser atoms comprise the world around us.  And there’s no difference in substance in the atomic structure, it’s just in their shape and size and quality.  And life is when some of these fortuitous, jostling, whirling atoms come together and death is when they’re separated.  So they combine, and dissolve, and recombine and the whole world is just atomic; it is atoms.  That was the philosophical teaching of Democritus.


Now  Epicurus, who died exactly 100 years after Democritus—Epicurus died in 270 BC—Epicurus took that philosophical foundational teaching of the materialistic structure of all things of Democritus and he made a life philosophy out of it.  Epicurus taught that the whole world is nothing but a whirling swirling concourse of atoms.  And as such he said our lives are so brief, and so purposeless, and so meaningless that what we ought to do is to get the most pleasure out of it possible.  And as you know, their famous sentence, “Eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we die” [1 Corinthians 15:32].  Now that is Epicurus; philosophical materialism, atheistic materialism.


Now the Stoics were no less atheists [Acts 17:18], they were no less materialists, but they looked at it in just a little different way.  Zeno died about six years after Epicurus, and Zeno taught on the stoa, the porch.  And his disciples and his philosophical school is called the Stoics.  And Zeno’s philosophy was that the god is the world and the world, is god; pantheism.  And I would suppose that practically all of modern, scientific teaching today is pantheist: the only god there is is the universe, present materiality.  That’s what Zeno taught, and his great conclusion, his life teaching drawn from his pantheism that God is just the world, materialism: that in order for the man to live a beautiful life, he must surrender himself.  He must accept the providences in which his life is cast, and live thus stoically, bravely, courageously.  That was the philosophical teaching of the Stoics.  And we use the word today.  When someone accepts the harsh providences of life, we will refer to him as accepting them “stoically.”  That is, he surrenders to them as Zeno taught; that we had no other choice except thus to do.


Now these university men, these professors, the Epicureans and the Stoics, when they listened to the apostle Paul, they listened to a man who was moving and thinking and feeling and reasoning in an altogether different world [Acts 17:18].  And it’s that kind of a world that I am preaching about this morning.  What Paul did, instead of accepting the materialistic foundation of this world, atomic—as being the god of all existence and the only god we’ll ever know—Paul preached the personality of God; the reality of a living Lord, and he did it in a marvelous way [Acts 17:22-31]. 


And out of deference to the little brief moment that we have this morning—and I say the message this hour is sort of an introduction to the series on God—we will speak of just two things that Paul observes: reasons concerning the reality of a personal God who is different from and above the material creation around us.


First of all, Paul avows that the human heart is itself a witness to the reality of a living and personal God.  So he starts:




As I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.  Whom therefore ye worship, not knowing Him, not knowing His name, not knowing what He is, whom therefore ye worship, not knowing, Him declare I unto you.


For God has made us—


he says—


to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined that we should seek the Lord, if haply we might feel after Him and find Him though He is not far from any one of us.


For in Him we live, and move, and have our being.


[Acts 17:23-28]




This is an avowal that our own hearts witness to the reality of a personal and living God.  Or could I say it like this?  All of the materialistic philosophies in the earth cannot stifle the instinctive cry of the human heart for a personal God.


I hadn’t read Augustine’s Confessions until I was lying there in the bed at this time a year ago, waiting to get strong to come back to this pulpit.  For the first time, I read Augustine’s Confessions.  And in the first paragraph of The Confessions of Augustine is written that most famous sentence—outside the Bible, the most famous one ever penned.  “O Lord, Thou hast made us for Thyself; and we are restless until we rest in Thee,” the cry of the human heart for God.


Will Durant, who was formerly head of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University in New York City and author of that famous volume, The Story of Philosophy, he wrote,


God, who was once the consolation of our brief life and our refuge in bereavement and suffering, has apparently vanished from the scene.  No telescope, no microscope discovers Him.  Life has become, in that total perspective which is philosophy, a fitful pullulation


that means a propagation—


of human insects on the earth.  Nothing is certain in it except defeat and death; a sleep from which it seems there is no awakening.  Faith and hope disappear; doubt and despair are the order of the day.  It seems impossible any longer to believe in the permanent greatness of man, or to give life a meaning that cannot be annulled by death.  The greatest question of our time is not communism versus individualism, not Europe versus America, not even the East versus the West; it is whether man can bear to live without God.




I concur in that.  The great question of the universe, of human life, of history, is this—not East and West, or communism and democracy—but the great question all-inclusive of all life is this: is there a God who knows me, who cares about me?  Is there a living and personal God?


Now it is one of the most tragic of all of the thoughts that could enter the human mind if there has been placed in us a longing, and a hungering, and a thirsting after God, only that we be mocked, and ridiculed, and sneered at in that hunger of our souls.  If such a thing as that exists, if it is true that we have that hunger after God only to be mocked, then it is the exception to everything we observe in this whole universe around us.


The apostle Paul writes that, “This thing that God has done, to put in our hearts a longing after God, is that we should seek the Lord, and feel after Him, and find Him; for He is not far away from any one of us.  For in Him we live, and move, and have our being” [Acts 17:26-28].  And if this longing for God in every human heart is placed there just to mock us, then that is the one exception in the whole universe: for everywhere else there is reason in the purpose and the design of everything that we see.  There is inherent, inbuilt, in everything that we look at, reason and design for a purpose.  There’s no exception to it.  We haven’t the hours to describe it, to delineate it, but just for a minute.


The sun in the center and the earth revolving around it, if the earth were to slow just a tiny bit, gravity would pull it into the sun.  If the earth were to speed up just a little bit, it would be flung out into space.  But it moves at just the right design and purpose to make it possible for us to be here.  Or again, if the earth were a little closer to the sun, we’d burn up.  If it were a little further away from the sun, we’d freeze to death.  It is just so, by purpose and by design, in order that we might live.


I see that as you do in every area of existence.  There is a fin on a fish for a purpose.  There is a wing on a bird for a purpose.  There is a hoof on a horse for a purpose.  There is a hand on a man for a purpose.  Shall we therefore say that the longing and the hungering that we have in our hearts for God has no meaning and no purpose?  If it is, it’s the one exception in the universe.


Paul says, addressing the reasoning mind, that the very fact that we have a hungering and a thirsting after God in our hearts is because that we might know Him; “For He is not far from any one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being” [Acts 17:27-28].  God and the reasoning mind: that we want Him, that we think of Him, that we hunger for Him is placed there by design and purpose [Romans 1:19], that we might know Him, love Him, serve Him.


Now one other thing for our time’s already gone, and this is the big one!  Dear, me!  How I long for that planet God’s going to give me one of these days, and we’re just going to preach and never look at a clock.  God and the reasoning mind: the second thing that Paul mentions.  He speaks of “that Man whom God has ordained:  whereby He hath given assurance unto us all, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” [Acts 17:31].  God and the reasoning mind: we find and we know God in the one great, incontrovertible, marvelous fact of the universe which is Jesus our Lord; the knowable God, the revelation of God, the manifestation of God, a personal, loving, caring Lord.  I repeat, the one great incontrovertible universal fact of all time is the fact of Jesus, the manifestation, the revelation, the incarnation of God [Matthew 1:23]. God in the flesh [John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16].


The earth cannot bury Christ; the tomb cannot hold Him [Matthew 27:57-28:7] and death cannot destroy Him [Revelation 1:18].  There cannot be built a grave deep enough to bury Him.  All of the clouds are not wide enough to provide his winding sheet.  And no stone in the earth could ever cover the tomb [Matthew 27:62-66, 28:5-7].  He arises and He ascends into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], but the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him [2 Chronicles 6:18].  He lives like a bush burning unconsumed [Exodus 3:2], in His church and in our hearts as we walk and talk with Him by the way.  The great fact of all time and history is Jesus the Lord.  He stands mid-most in the midst of human history, like some great towering mountain.  And the farther slope goes back to the beginning of the creation; and the hither slope reaches toward the great consummation of the age.


All of the eyes of the ages past look forward to Him in prophetic gaze; and we look back to Him in historic faith.  He stands midmost in human history; before Him it’s called BC, “Before Christ,” after Him it is dated AD, anno Domini, “the year of our Lord.”  When you look at the face of the earth all of the nations of the [East] write from right to left.  All of them write from left to right: left to right in the West, writing from left to right, and all of the nations in the East write from right to left—all of them converging in culture and in national life upon Christ; the center of history is there in Bethlehem and in Calvary.


He is the manifestation, the revelation of God [Timothy 3:16].  He is somebody knowable, and reachable, and touchable [Colossians 1:15].  He is personal for the youth, for the man in manhood and womanhood, down to old age and in sickness and in death, touching Him, reaching Him.


Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God.”  Colossians 2:9 says, “For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”  Hebrews 1 and verse 3 says, “He is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person” [Hebrews 1:3].  To know Jesus is to know God.  To love Jesus is to love God.  To follow Jesus is to follow God.  To worship Jesus is to worship God.  God is revealed and manifested to us in Jesus our Lord.  And the fullness of that revelation is forever full of light and glory.


Second Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6].  When God would point men to the light of His knowledge and of His glory, how does He proceed?  To whom does He point our gaze?  Does He point to the great works of His hands?  No.  Does He point to the providences of life?  No.  Does He point to the stars and the astronomical facts?  No.  He points to Jesus Christ.


Would you know God?  Look at Jesus.  The tears of Jesus are the pity of God [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8].  The gentleness of Jesus is the longsuffering of God [2 Peter 3:9].  And the tenderness of Jesus is the love of God; a personal God, a living Lord [1 Timothy 3:16].  No wonder Thomas, looking upon Him, bowed in His presence and cried, saying, “My Lord and my God!” [John 20:28].


God and the reasoning mind; He addresses His appeal to our souls, to our hearts, to our minds.  It is a faith that is understandable and appropriational.  It’s a way to live triumphantly.  It’s a way to die gloriously.  And it’s a promise that abides in victory and triumph forever.  Now may we stand?


Our Lord, we’re not blind, superstitious seekers after nothingness, and sterility, and vanity, and disappointment, and despair, and hopelessness.  We have given ourselves to a great fact, a tremendous reality; the presence of God, whom we know as Yahweh, Jehovah, in the Old Testament, and whom we know as the personal Lord Jesus in the New Testament.  Dear God, how could we love Thee enough for revealing Thyself to us so intimately, and beautifully, and preciously, to teach us [Matthew 9:35], to live among us [John 1:14], to die for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], to intercede for us in heaven [Romans 8:34], to come for us someday? [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].


And in this moment that we pray, that we stand before God, while all of us wait for this moment, in the balcony round, in the press of people on this lower floor, a family, a couple, or just you, coming to the Lord in faith, coming to the Lord in confession, coming to the Lord to be baptized, coming to be with Him and with us in the church, make the decision in your heart, in your mind.  And in a moment when we sing, down that stairway, down that aisle, “Here we come, pastor.”  God bless you, angels attend you in the way.  And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest, in Thy saving name, amen.  Now as we sing, our ministers, our deacons, our people rejoicing to receive you, come, come.